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“Commonsense” legislation expanding access to cost-effective assisted living has gained support from the major associations representing senior living and other long-term care providers.

Argentum, the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, the American Seniors Housing Association and LeadingAge signed a joint letter of support for the Expanding Veterans’ Options for Long Term Care Act on Monday.

The letter was addressed to Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT), ranking member Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Sen. Patty Murry (D-WA), all of whom introduced the legislation last week. 

As McKnight’s Senior Living previously reported, the proposed three-year pilot program would expand veterans’ access to assisted living at six Veterans Integrated Services Networks, including at least two program sites in rural areas and two in state veterans homes.

ASHA President and CEO David Schless said that the coalition supports the bill “as a way to create awareness of the benefits of senior living, not to just veterans, but to all seniors in need of supportive services.”

The letter points to a recent report from the Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Health Administration and the current and projected long-term services and supports needs, which found that the number of veterans aged 85 and older who are eligible for nursing home care will increase almost 535% over the next 20 years. 

That demand is not limited to veterans. The letter notes that the number of older adults needing long-term care is expected to increase from 6.3 million in 2015 to 15 million by 2050, whereas the number of unpaid family caregivers is expected to decline. 

“Someone turning 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term services and supports in their remaining years,” the letter reads. 

By placing veterans who don’t need daily skilled nursing services in assisted living, the coalition said, the VA would see a potential nursing home savings of $69,000 per placement per year. 

“When the VA estimates that 5% of the veterans living in a nursing home do not need that level of care, a clear solution is assisted living,” Schless said.

ASHA and the coalition, he added, have some suggested changes they are discussing with Senate staff, including decreasing the pilot from three years to a shorter time period, and ensuring that the sample size is adequate to ensure meaningful results.

“As our nation prepares for an exponential rise in the need for care services — with 10,000 Americans turning 70 every day — we need to expand opportunities for our nation’s seniors to access their care,” Argentum Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Maggie Elehwany said in a statement

Assisted living, Elehwany said, is a cost-effective alternative, with an average monthly cost of $4,300 compared with $8,800 for skilled nursing or $4,500 per month for a home health aide providing limited services. The Department of Veterans Affairs currently restricts funds from being put toward room and board fees at assisted living communities.

“For too long, many of our low-income veterans who participate in federal assistance programs have had to pay for their room and board costs at assisted living communities where they wish to live,” Elehwany said. “These veterans who have served our country must have the opportunity to live independently and yet receive the 24 / 7 care they require in a dignified manner.”

Consumer choice is one of three pillars of the strategic plan that Argentum unveiled last month at the association’s annual conference. Argentum President and CEO James Balda said that the senior living industry was created more than 25 years ago and has flourished as an alternative to institutional care by allowing older adults to age in place and have their needs met in a social and residential setting.